Practicing Self-Compassion


Author: Jen Snider

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For the month of October 2016 we will be “Practicing Self-Compassion” in our mindful wellness online community. Click here to learn more about practicing with us (new topics every month). 

What is self-compassion?

self-compassion-handSelf-compassion has been defined by Kristin Neff in her pioneering research as simply turning compassion we might feel for others towards ourselves.

Compassion, when we extend it to others, is open-hearted recognition of the way another human being is suffering or struggling. We may feel a sense of care for the person, perhaps the wish to help, and often we imagine what it might be like to be in their shoes.

Self-compassion is nothing more than turning such recognition inward. I am having a hard time, I am human and I am worthy of my own care, kindness and understanding. 

Western cultural values that emphasize independence, competition, performance and perfectionism have led many of us to hold critical beliefs about ourselves. When we encounter very common human experiences that are difficult or painful, we might naturally find our minds full of thoughts that range from self-judging to downright nasty. Our habit of self-critique is so longstanding and culturally reinforced that it can be difficult to imagine another way.

Increasingly, we are realizing the negative impacts of unchecked self-critique on wellbeing, both emotional and physical. Research on self-compassion is showing benefits in alleviating depression, anxiety, shame, negative body image and perfectionism, increasing motivation, increasing healthy behavior and increasing our ability to cope and bounce back from life’s challenges. Self-compassion is a hot topic in research across health disciplines.

The practices of self-compassion help us first begin to acknowledge and accept our own struggles as human experiences worthy of notice. From there, we can begin to practice new ways of tending to ourselves in a number of ways, as Dr. Neff has described:

  1. Kindness & Care vs. Self-Judgment. We can extend care and warmth towards ourselves when we notice we’re struggling (including some kind awareness of our habits of self-critical thinking!).
  2. Common Humanity vs. Isolation. Most of the ways we struggle are the ways every other human being struggles. We can realize the natural compassion we feel for others who experience difficulties like ours, and remember that we are not alone in making mistakes, failing, struggling to reach our goals, being hard on ourselves or any other way we may suffering.
  3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification.  Mindfulness strengthens our ability to bring non-judgmental attention and awareness to the present moment, enabling us to see things as they are. In this practice, we can begin to see that our pain or struggles are not who we are (as in “I’m such a fool”), but rather momentary experiences of struggle that we can notice and release.


Are there any difficulties to expect?

If you are not in a habit of noticing your own pain or struggles with kindness and care, turning attention to them can bring them to the surface. With all practices of mindfulness and self-compassion, please always remember that emotions are transient (they come and go, intensify and relax) and that you can gently back out of any practice that brings discomfort beyond what feels beneficial to you. As always, seeking support is a good option if what you are discovering is difficult to explore alone.

Dr. Neff has written a few other “tips for practice” that might be of interest to you as you begin.

How do I begin to practice self-compassion?

Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, two of the leading researchers and educators on this topic, have kindly created a wealth of online resources to help us develop practices of self-compassion.

• Establish an intention to begin to explore self-compassion.

• Consider a daily practice of self-compassion using meditations such as:

Loving Kindness

Self-kindness Meditation

Self-compassion Breaks (links to

Affectionate Breathing (links to

Many other self-compassion meditations and exercises can be found on Dr. Neff’s website or Dr. Germer’s website. You can choose to follow a guided meditation anytime, and as you practice with regularity, you will find that you adapt and practice in your own ways at any time.

• Practice exploring self-compassion in everyday life by noticing moments of struggle and wishing yourself well. Explore self-caring practices in everyday life and notice how it goes.

• Explore practicing with others on this and other mindful wellness topics in our mindful wellness online community.

• Learn more, and consider finding a Mindful Self-Compassion program near you. These programs tend to be multi-day intensives or 8-week programs. Locally they are offered at the UNC Center for Integrative Medicine and some private practitioners. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer do a lot of training around the U.S., and both of their websites contain training dates and locations.

If you’d like to learn more about mindful and self-compassionate support, check out our next offering of The Peaceful Plate Program or set up a free consultation with Jen.

If you’d like to explore the power of online community to support your everyday wellbeing, join our free Mindful Wellness Practice Community on Facebook.


Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself  (2011), Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions (2009), Christopher K. Germer, Ph.D.

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